The vertebral column (backbone, spine) is a flexuous and flexible column, formed of a series of bones called vertebræ.
The vertebræ are thirty-three in number, and are grouped under the names cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal, according to the regions they occupy; there are seven in the cervical region, twelve in the thoracic, five in the lumbar, five in the sacral, and four in the coccygeal.
This number is sometimes increased by an additional vertebra in one region, or it may be diminished in one region, the deficiency often being supplied by an additional vertebra in another. The number of cervical vertebræ is, however, very rarely increased or diminished.
The vertebræ in the upper three regions of the column remain distinct throughout life, and are known as true or movable vertebræ; those of the sacral and coccygeal regions, on the other hand, are termed false or fixed vertebræ, because they are united with one another in the adult to form two bones—five forming the upper bone or sacrum, and four the terminal bone or coccyx.
With the exception of the first and second cervical, the true or movable vertebræ present certain common characteristics which are best studied by examining one from the middle of the thoracic region.
The vertebral column is situated in the median line, as the posterior part of the trunk; its average length in the male is about 71 cm. Of this length the cervical part measures 12.5 cm., the thoracic about 28 cm., the lumbar 18 cm., and the sacrum and coccyx 12.5 cm. The female column is about 61 cm. in length.